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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 14th December 2011 

I could claim to be an old romantic and say that the impending year end has made me reflective but the reality is that I was being entirely practical when I decided to look at the oldest of my photographs to see if they were worth keeping or whether it made sense to free space on my computer.

I suppose the fact that I decided to select a few of them for this blog entry shows that I should not destroy them completely.

To start, a picture taken on the first ever occasion I saw a Cannabis sativa plant. The Home Office licence necessary for the Alnwick Garden to be able to display one plant allowed for a number to be grown from seed each year as long as the surplus plants were destroyed and a declaration made about their disposal. This picture was taken in the small greenhouse where the plants were prepared each year.

Cannabis sativa

In the summer of 2005, I made a visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden and took this picture of Dracunculus vulgaris, dragon arum, the plant that gives off an appalling smell to attract the flies that are essential to its pollination.

Dracunculus vulgaris, dragon arum

That trip to Chelsea was made on the way to a holiday in Gozo where, as this picture shows, Nerium oleander is planted along the side of the roads both for its colour and because cattle avoid the plant and will not get onto the roads as a result.

Nerium oleander

I’d completely forgotten I had this next picture. It shows ‘Digger’ the feral cat who adopted the Poison Garden and gave me the title for my book ‘Is That Cat Dead? – and other questions about poison plants’. Digger would attack the Nepeta faassenii, catmint, which is psychoactive to cats and then sleep off the ‘high’ by curling up under the Artemisia absinthium, wormwood. The sleep was so deep that even the hundreds of visitors passing within feet of her didn’t disturb her slumbers and led many of them to ask if she were living or dead. And I’m sure not all of them were joking.

'Digger' the cat

And, finally, a picture showing how summer's beauties can take on a different loveliness when frost decorates them. Rather than remove the Papaver somniferum, opium poppy, I requested the gardeners to leave it as long as possible so there was something for the visitors to see.

Papaver somniferum, opium poppy,